By Carl Begai
Take a look at the viewer comments left as (burnt) offerings for the three videos The Agonist posted in the weeks prior to the release of their new album, Five – “The Chain”, “The Moment” and “The Hunt” respectively – and you’ll find the band has a very loyal yet painfully divided fanbase. Understandable given the parting of ways with original singer Alissa White-Gluz (now with Arch Enemy) in 2014 and the addition of Vicky Psarakis in her place, but the haters aren’t merely complaining about the vocals this time out. No, it would seem that those who would try to do The Agonist harm with insults and assorted trolling when Eye Of Providence was released in 2015 are taking issue with the songwriting on Five, the riffs, the production, the mix, even the promo photos, as well as the vocals. Guitarist Danny Marino isn’t one to let the negativity that has surfaced get to him because he knows Five is a bold step forward for The Agonist, and the band still has a legion of open-minded supporters.
“It’s hard to judge positive and negative reactions based on comments made on a video,” he says, “but even if they’re mainly positive the negative comments speak louder because they jump out at you. I think it’s important for any band to look at it that way. For example, I remember when Opeth went through their musical shift a couple albums ago and decided to continue on that path. It wasn’t pleasant for them (laughs) but I think they’re more successful now than they’ve ever been in their career. It took some time for people to adjust to their new direction. It’s very subjective. All we can do is keep putting out music and seeing people show up to watch us play. That’s how we know we’re doing something good.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: THE AGONIST – “This Is Not Just A Battle…”
By Carl Begai
The lads and lady that make up Epica are far from stupid. They wear the symphonic metal tag proudly even though it automatically paints them into a corner – at least on paper – yet they make serious efforts with every release to re-invent themselves to some degree. Just how successful they are ultimately depends on the fans rather than the journalists in their pseudo-ivory towers, but seven albums in it’s fair to say even from a press-rat point of view that The Holographic Principle is Epica’s most unexpectedly diverse album to date. In fact, it’s hard to write the intro to this piece and not have it deviate into a full-on album review. Currently playing in this office at a volume deadly for fans of Bieber pap or Kanye pomp, Epica’s new record serves as a reminder that string sections and choir arrangements do not a killer symphonic metal album make when the folks behind it are constantly thinking far beyond the confines of the genre.
Or, in simple terms, The Holographic Principle pretty much smokes every symphonic metal album released over the last two years.
“Overall the reception has been really good, and people actually seem overwhelmed,” says vocalist Simone Simons. “The Holographic Principle sounds more brutal than anything we’ve done but still with the same classic Epica elements. The guitars are more prominent, the vocals are more versatile, and I think there’s just a lot of information to process, which you can’t do in just one listen. Even myself, I heard the finished songs a few times and it was a lot to take in.”
“The record is kind of a wake-up call because there’s the stigma of a female singer in the band defining the sound of the band,” she adds. “You have Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Otep, Epica, and we all sound different even though there’s a woman singing in the band.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: EPICA – Cutting Edge Symphology
By Carl Begai
As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…
“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Discipline And Compromise
By Carl Begai
Amongst metal’s heaviest, darkest and meanest diehards Peter Tägtgren is known first and foremost as the frontman and founder of Hypocrisy, then as a producer who has racked up time in his Abyss Studio since 1995 with seemingly every metal band under the sun. There’s no getting past the fact, however, that his greatest success to date is his mainstream-ish electro-industrial outfit Pain. Originally launched as a one-man pet project in 1997, Pain now boasts a real band line-up and eight albums in their catalogue with no brick walls to slow them down in sight. The newest outing, Coming Home, is distinctly Swede-powered Pain boasting its fair share of surprises, from releasing its sick-riff heaviest track (“Call Me”) as the lead single, to an unexpected guest vocalist, to some serious balladeering on the title track. And clean singing. Lots of it.
During the five year gap between You Only Live Twice (2011) and Coming Home, Pain did a decent amount of touring and Peter succeeded in blindsiding the metal community by teaming up with seemingly reclusive Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann. The duo released the Lindemann debut, Skills And Pills, backed by some huge label confidence and promotional firepower, guaranteeing that everyone heard about Lindemann whether they liked the Pain-Stein sound of the project or not.
“It was great, we had the time of our lives,” Peter laughs. “Just two idiots out in the world doing promotion and it was great. We had such a blast. It’s a memory for life. We started with one song and we all know how it ended. It was amazing. Till is fucked up which is why we fit together (laughs). There were no rules for anything when we made the album. It was all ‘follow your heart.'” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: PAIN – Designed To Piss You Off
By Carl Begai
Get past the fact the title for Delain’s new record sounds like an episode of the Teletubbies, and that the artwork is perhaps better suited for a ’70s hippie album than a metal band, Moonbathers is the all-important next step in a career that could have easily – some might say should have – wheezed and died years ago. Diehard fans will argue that Delain’s 2012 album We Are The Others yanked them out of symphonic metal obscurity, but it was The Human Contradiction two years later that made Delain big deal players on an international scale. That record stood head, shoulders and elbows above anything Delain had offered previously and set the bar for the follow-up pretty damn high, particularly since the album’s appeal led to major tours with Sabaton and Nightwish, guaranteeing maximum exposure. The fan-fuelled jury will weigh in over the coming months on whether the band succeeded in meeting the challenge, but from a former fence-sitting convert’s point of view Moonbathers is even more diverse than its predecessor, the song-writing top notch. And give Delain an extra point for having the audacity to cover the Queen classic “Scandal”.
Founder / keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, who started his career as a member of Within Temptation way back when, agrees that the 2016 Nightwish tour through North America was one of the best forums possible to introduce new material to Delain’s growing fanbase, which was one of the reasons for releasing the Lunar Prelude EP early this year.
“People were asking when we were going to tour again, and they were asking when we were going to release new material. We can only do one thing at a time, but we thought ‘Why don’t we do both?’ and chopped the album production in pieces. That way we had some material for the new tour, and it was a good warm-up for the album. The response from the fans was great. Most of the time, doing a support tour means that you lose a lot of money on it because you have to pay for expenses, but we had amazing merchandise profits on the Nightwish so we were able to cover our costs. That’s something that is very rare, so it’s a good sign to see whether people like the new music or not.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: DELAIN – First Band On The Moon
Following is an excerpt from a very recent interview with Yers Trooly conducted by veteran and downright awesome author / musician Joel Gausten…
For more than two decades, Carl Begai has been a leading voice in Metal journalism. Whether he’s reporting on acts all over the world for BraveWords.com / Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles (BW&BK) or offering various musings on CarlBegai.com, he consistently provides an in-depth, unpretentious and often amusing take on the world of music. Now, he is preparing to steer his work in a GRIM new direction.
Boasting cover art by former BW&BK graphic artist Hugues Laflamme, GRIM – My Way To Hell is Begai’s first work of fiction and his first book since 2008’s Fire and Fame (with Bonfire’s Joerg Deisinger). He has been “dabbling” with GRIM since 2011, when he was inspired to start putting words together after watching The Devil’s Advocate with Al Pacino. In one pivotal scene, Pacino – in the role of The Devil – delivers a powerful speech on how God is “an absentee landlord” when it came to caring for humanity.
“That is my favorite Pacino moment,” Begai says. “That’s where the idea of the book came from.”
Fans of Begai’s work received their first tease of GRIM when he posted the book’s prologue on his website in 2012.
“The premise behind the book is that the world is such an ugly place and Hell is so busy that they decided to outsource in order to collect all the souls that need collecting. One specific guy more or less got sucked into doing the job, which goes against his own morals. He has real issues with that, and he has real issues with the idea of Heaven and Hell – plus the fact that people are looking for an easy way out by being willing to sacrifice their souls. It’s a first-person take on this seemingly ludicrous idea of God and the Devil, but it turns out that it actually does exist.” Continue reading Getting GRIM: Carl Begai Takes On Heaven & Hell
By Carl Begai
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 BraveWords Interview: ACCEPT Guitarist WOLF HOFFMANN Goes Teutonic Symphonic
By Carl Begai
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 BraveWords Interview: DORO – Hail To The Queen
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 GRIM – Screenshots For One Hell Of A Video Trailer
By Carl Begai
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 BraveWords Interview: DESTRUCTION – “We’re Still A Bunch Of Angry Bastards”