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By Carl Begai

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The first four seconds into the new album, Headbanger’s Symphony, are enough to slam dunk the 11-track opus into the Accept catalogue. Never mind that opening track “Scherzo” is an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” featuring a tip of the hat to the band’s “Teutonic Terror”; the record has guitarist Wolf Hoffmann written all over it, featuring popular classical music pieces adapted for the metal crowd. The results are quite often stunning if you’re open to instrumental metal without the loopy Steve Vai craziness. For those Accept and/or Hoffmann fans that think this is something new for the legendary axe-master, however, not so…

“I made a classical album 20 years ago (Classical) and I’ve always been the guy doing that sort of thing in Accept songs, so it wasn’t totally unexpected,” says Hoffmann. “At the same time, it took forever to get this album finished so I’m super excited that it’s finally here.”

The delay in getting Headbanger’s Symphony was due to the fact Accept has always been Hoffmann’s top priority, particularly since their 2010 comeback album, Blood Of The Nations, pretty much blew the roof off the metal scene for being one of the strongest records released that year

“The majority of the album started before Accept got back together,” Hoffmann reveals, “so it was at a stage where it was almost ready but the recordings weren’t finalized. The tracks were written and the project was in my head, it was all demo-ed and good to go, and then Accept started back up. So whenever there was a couple weeks free, like over Christmas, or things slowed down I went at it again. And again and again (laughs).” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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On June 24th, German metal queen Doro released her latest in a string of anniversary DVDs entitled Strong And Proud – 30 Years Of Rock And Metal. For some people this may come off as overkill in that the lovely lady cranks out an audio-visual extravaganza every five years or so, needlessly showcasing the fact she’s still in top form and kicking ass. For the diehard fans it’s a celebration of an artist who continues to put her peers and performers half her age to shame (Doro was born in ’64; do the math). Strong And Proud is a monstrous three DVD set featuring an obligatory Wacken Open Air show, a two-night stand her Düsseldorf home town divided between Classic Night and Rock / Metal Night sets, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and bonus material Doro couldn’t leave on the cutting room floor even though she was advised to do so by the creative team backing her up.

“It was at least one-and-a-half years of work,” Doro reveals, as the 30th Anniversary show in Düsseldorf was shot in 2014. “I have a guy that works with me, he’s done the last four DVDs, but I always want to be there to help take care of stuff so it’s definitely teamwork. I know best what the fans want to see, so there might be an editor that’s great at his job technically but I want to see excitement of the fans, I want to see their faces. Those things catch my eye but the guy doing the editing might have a different perspective. And sometimes I’ll have to tell the people ‘No, the other guy is playing the guitar solo, not him, so focus on the other guy…’ It’s like they always focus on the wrong guitar player unless I’m there (laughs). There’s a team of people that work on editing, colour grading, sound and all these other details, so it was months and months of work.” Continue Reading

Grim

So yeah, I’ve been all about trying to publish this book independently for the last few years and it has been a very slow process. The writing itself wasn’t an issue, although I discovered some fantastically awful grammatical errors when I went back to look at the manuscript some six months after the fact. I dragged my feet putting together a Kickstarter campaign to finance the book, as I have publicly denounced crowdfunding in the past, but realized that it’s the only way I’m ever going to (hopefully) secure the funds to publish. Back in January I foolishly announced March 15th as the Kickstarter launch even though I didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle assembled. My pride took a beating when those plans fell through and I’m still eating my words.

It was plan from the very beginning to have a video trailer to advertise the Kickstarter campaign. One thing the music biz has taught me is Promote Or Die, and video is seemingly the best way to go in this day and age. Finding someone to do the work proved to be a problem, however, as the one soul who promised big and brash and bold things took a powder when he realized I wasn’t kidding about going through with it. Either that or the music composed by Sander Gommans (After Forever, HDK) scared the bejeezus out of him and sent him running with his award-winning tail between his legs. Trying to find someone else to do the job took a few months of hair pulling, one profanity-laced rant on Facebook, and a phone call from Rock & Royalty photo god Heiko Roith who introduced me to a colleague we’ll call Spitz for the time being. Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Seeing as how BraveWords lays claim to being Canada’s authority on metal and boasts an international reach that few can compete with – we’re a humble lot up here in the Great White North – it falls to us to acknowledge the victory of fellow Canuck and drummer extraordinaire, Randy Black, who made a small but significant contribution to the legacy of German thrash masters Destruction in 2015. Thus, going in to discuss the band’s new slab of violence Under Attack with Destruction frontman Schmier, the first order of business was to find out how Black fared filling in behind the kit while permanent drummer Vaaver took some time off to be with his family early last year.

“He’s not a crazy Canuck,” Schmier laughs. “Randy doesn’t drink or do drugs, and he takes his job very seriously, so nothing spectacular happened like Randy destroying the bus or anything like that. He’s very focused on his work. It was difficult because we needed someone to replace Vaaver for a while and it had to be someone who was familiar with Destruction who could learn to play the material in a short amount of time. It’s not easy to learn and feel the songs like a drummer who has been playing them for a number of years, but Randy did it his way and he did a great job. Vaaver thought it was great the way Randy interpreted the songs. It was fun working with him and there were a lot of people that liked it so much that they started asking if Randy was joining the band permanently. I think it was a good challenge for him. It was a good cardio workout for him, anyway (laughs). I think the last time he played stuff like ours was with Annihilator, but Destruction has more fast stuff compared to them. Randy was in great shape by the end of the tour (laughs).”

Fast forward to the present, where Under Attack closes the four year gap since Spritual Genocide. An unusually long time between Destruction albums, but according to Schmier it was a conscious move on the band’s part to take their time making rather than having to deal with unexpected roadblocks.

“We recorded the demos for Under Attack and then went back on tour, so we were never in the studio for more than three or four days at a time. It was actually a genius move because we recorded a song or two or three, went back on the road, and we had all that energy and excitement from playing the old songs for the fans. When we went back into the studio we had that old school feeling even as we were refreshing our sound, and it made the songwriting process very smooth. If you don’t write songs for two or three years, when you do start writing again you have so many ideas. I was like a volcano of new ideas, it was shocking.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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More often that not, band biographies are loaded with show-off information and adjective-tweaked factoids meant to sell the artist in question to the press. Makes sense if a label or management is pushing a new signing, but it comes off as trying to sell snow to an Eskimo when the band has been around for over a decade and has seven albums to choose from. In short, trying to sell a veteran and altogether successful band’s new work on hype rather than substance is insulting to the folks behind the music. This is particularly true of DevilDriver and vocalist Dez Fafara, who launched the band in 2002 after carving a path into the distortion-driven music scene with Coal Chamber beginning in 1993. He’s quite content and able to to let his music do the talking, as on the new DevilDriver album Trust No One.

“I think I’m still around because I’m a no-bullshit guy,” says Fafara. “I don’t have time for the purists in music or any of that. People who know me, that are close to me, they appreciate the guy that I am because I don’t have the time to bullshit you.”

Thus we leave it to him to describe DevilDriver; the only overview that really matters in the end.

“Every single record has a DevilDriver sound and a signature groove but they’re very different from one another. Beast is very different from Pray For Villains, and Trust No One is very different from our last record. People can’t pin us down and I think that’s a good thing. They started calling us groove metal and I thought that was too broad a term, so they started calling us the California groove machine. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’ll take that…’ (laughs).”

A nifty little stamp, sure, but it still reeks of desperation on the part of the media or management as trying to put DevilDriver in a convenient little box.

“Sometimes you have to go with monikers because some people need a tag,” Fafara offers. “Long ago when I started DevilDriver, I wanted a signature sound and I knew I wanted something different. I’ve got my ear to the ground, I hear what’s going on in metal, and I see a lot of bands putting out the same record. There’s been hype and critical acclaim behind records that I listen to and I’m thinking ‘What..? Why?’ For me it’s like ‘Let’s do something different, let’s stand out,’ and I think on Trust No One – especially on the new album – that we’ve done something that’s our own. We’ve upped the sound and I’ve definitely upped the players within the band, and it has become a monster.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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Over the course of her 30+ year career vocalist Lee Aaron has been known as the Metal Queen, a rock goddess, a jazz singer, and now she’s hailed as a Canadian music icon. There are also a couple people that call her Mom. All of these elements led to the making of her new album, Fire And Gasoline, erroneously called a comeback by some people even though she’s been active on the live front both as a rock singer and jazz artist for years. It’s a record that hints at the bulletpoints in Lee Aaron’s career but isn’t a rehash of her glory days, much to the admiration of some fans and the chagrin of others, which is the only way she knows how to fly.

During the press junket for Fire And Gasoline, Lee addressed her Metal Queen days (1984) saying in an interview that she equated the era with theater, much the same way Vincent Furnier masquerades as Alice Cooper. It’s a title she’s proud to wear even though the new album isn’t even close to being metal. Back in 2009, however, Lee expressed her disdain in a Metal Hammer interview at having been stereotyped as “metal forever” thanks to the Metal Queen image because it was “definitely a barrier to being able to move forward musically.” She’s since come to terms with that part of her career.

“I think it’s far less true now than it was back then,” says Lee. “I think now that I’ve come full circle, I’ve ventured into make sort of an alternative rock album in the ’90s – a couple of them, actually – and I went on from there to make a jazz record in 2000. Now that I’ve done other things I think it’s changed public perception to some degree, so I no longer look at the Metal Queen image as an albatross. Nowadays I hear people calling me Canada’s Queen Of Rock or Canada’s Reigning Metal Queen, it’s more a title of honour. I feel more comfortable with it now, and I think my fans have grown up, too.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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There was a time when the most interesting aspect of Dutch symphonic rockers Delain was that they’d taken their name from the Stephen King fantasy novel, The Eyes Of The Dragon. That isn’t to say the band had nothing to offer when they surfaced in 2006, but as a female fronted act following in the wake of fellow Dutch artists The Gathering, Within Temptation, After Forever and Epica, Delain was a tiny “So what?” blip on the metal public’s radar in comparison. In 2012 the band was in danger of being crushed by label issues surrounding the release of We Are The Others, but 2014 saw their fortunes change for the better with an unexpectedly brilliant record, The Human Contradiction. A heavier sound, out-of-the-box songwriting, a new record label, and several international touring opportunities shoved Delain towards the top of the heap, doing wonders for their credibility.

Their push to the front of line continues with the release of the Lunar Prelude EP, issued the same day as the beginning of their new North American support tour with Nightwish (February 19th).

“It was a combination of things coming together,” says keyboardist Martijn Westerholt with regards to The Human Contradiction’s success. “When we did We Are The Others, Roadrunner Records was sold and died so we suffered a lot from that. We didn’t do a lot of promo, there weren’t a lot of tour offers, so it was kind of like the chicken and the egg scenario. For The Human Contradiction we worked with a different production team, we did more on our own, and that was very liberating. I won’t say The Human Contradiction was better or worse than We Are The Others because from an artist’s perspective that’s like choosing between your kids. We learned a lot from producer Jacob Hellner and his team, and we had great tour offers from Within Temptation, Sabaton, and later on with Nightwish. Everything came together and we were able to present our new stuff to so many people, and they liked it.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

Textures2016a

If you hear Dutch metal veterans Textures referred to as a better groomed version of Swedish chaos lords Meshuggah, or Hell’s version of Dream Theater, or the prog equivalent of Pantera, all three comparisons should be taken to heart. Kicking around since 2001, the band unleashed their debut album, Polars, in 2003 to critical acclaim, making it clear from the outset that predictability was not part of their musical vocabulary. Three singers, one bassist, one guitarist, one keyboardist and five albums later Textures is still walking their own line and ignoring all musical boundaries as they stomp forward. Take, for example, the new song “Shaping A Single Grain Of Sand”, the first song released off their new Phenotype album; not quite 5 minutes of progressive riff-ridiculous mayhem that doesn’t let on even for a moment how it’s going to play out by the time you reach the end. And as infectious as they come if you’re into being bludgeoned into submission.

All in a day’s work as far as Textures is concerned.

“This is my second album with the band,” says keyboardist Uri Dijk, who came on board in 2010, “but I know the first Textures album got an award for being the best metal album in Holland at the time. It set the bar quite high for Textures from the start because they were a pioneering band. in this genre of music.”

For his part, however, Uri was never a big fan of Textures prior to joining them. In fact, he bordered on being oblivious to their existence.

“I knew they were a metal band from Holland, I’d seen them play once or twice, I even knew they were looking for a keyboard player, but I wasn’t really into their kind of music (laughs). I play keyboards and I started out with Children Of Bodom, Dimmu Borgir and In Flames; I wasn’t into the progressive polyrhythmical stuff at the time.” Continue Reading

By Carl Begai

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“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

At BraveWords we’re doing our annual look back on the year that was, with each scribe offering up their respective lists of Hots and Nots of 2015. My rundown is available below; the original version along with links to the other members of my BraveWords family can be found here.

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Top 20 Albums Of 2015
1) QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (Century Media)
2) CRADLE OF FILTH – Hammer Of The Witches (Nuclear Blast)
3) KAMELOT – Haven (Napalm Records)
4) CHILDREN OF BODOM – I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast)
5) SYMPHONY X – Underworld (Nuclear Blast)
6) DANKO JONES – Fire Music (Bad Taste)
7) GRAVE – Out Of Respect For The Dead (Century Media)
8) DEAD LORD – Heads Held High (Century Media)
9) CHRIS CAFFERY – Your Heaven Is Real (Metalville)
10) SLAYER – Repentless (Nuclear Blast)
11) HELLOWEEN – My God-Given Right (Nuclear Blast)
12) NONEXIST – Throne Of Scars (Mighty Music)
13) FEAR FACTORY – Genexus (Nuclear Blast)
14) STRYPER – Fallen (Frontiers)
15) CIRCLE II CIRCLE – Reign Of Darkness (earMusic)
16) THE V – Now Or Never (Frontiers)
17) STRATOVARIUS – Eternal (earMusic)
18) ANNIHILATOR – Suicide Society (UDR)
19) LEAVES’ EYES – King Of Kings (AFM)
20) MOTÖRHEAD – Bad Magic (UDR) Continue Reading