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…”
Continue reading BraveWords Interview: AYREON – Human Equations And Horror Stories
By Carl Begai
When French Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz joined Swedish melodic death metallers Arch Enemy in 2014 at the request of her predecessor Angela Gossow, she was well aware of what awaited her: extensive touring, a rabid fanbase with high expectations, and an expected group of haters. So it went that, when Alissa broke her ribs in the middle of her first ever tour fronting Arch Enemy in support of her band debut, War Eternal, she chose to forge ahead despite the considerable pain. Most singers wouldn’t even entertain such a move due to the fact singing requires being able to breathe, which isn’t an easy task with a busted chest. Catching up on Arch Enemy’s European support tour with Nightwish in December 2015, Alissa revealed she hadn’t experienced any more major physical disasters since that first road trip, but admitted she was steering clear of the skateboard stashed on the tour bus just to be safe.
“There was so much pressure at that point and so much going on,” she says of that first tour with Arch Enemy. “For 10 or 12 years (with The Agonist) it was a struggle just to get booked anywhere, so when I was given this beautiful itinerary of a year or two full of shows… I’m not built to say no to that. I wasn’t about to say ‘Hey, since I’ve been working for 12 years and I’ve finally gotten this far, time to not do it.’ So I did the tour and it was against the doctor’s orders but fuck that, I’ve never followed doctor’s orders anyway (laughs). It definitely held me back a little in terms of performance for a few months, but it worked out.”
At the time of this interview Arch Enemy had been on the road for almost two years supporting War Eternal, an unheard of amount of time for a band that hasn’t quite graduated to headlining arena shows just yet. When they finished out 2014 supporting Kreator in Europe most people assumed the band would spend 2015 working on new material. Arch Enemy opted to remain on the road, closing 2015 with one of the biggest tours of their career in terms of audience numbers.
“There’s still a demand,” Alissa says of the band’s decision to spend so much time on tour. “Especially in this situation where we’re fortunate to have fans accept the new music and the new line-up. We want to give them a show if they want it. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact I can’t say ‘no.’ I feel so incredibly lucky that if anyone wants to see me perform I’m like ‘Really? You want us to play a show? I’m in…'(laughs). That and the fact these guys have been touring for 20 years; they just love doing it so they’re happy to play any shows that come our way. It’s a mixture of enjoying what we do and being workaholics. We’re still going but we’ll have to write some new music, which will be our focus in 2016.” Continue reading ALISSA WHITE-GLUZ In ARCH ENEMY Territory – “Êtes-Vous Fucking Prêt?!”
By Carl Begai
This year Kamelot celebrates 20 years as a card-carrying signed band, but it was just over 15 years past that they released a career game-changer, The Fourth Legacy. Their first two albums – Eternity and Dominion respectively – served to put Kamelot in the public eye, the third record (Siege Perilous) generated a buzz after they snapped up Conception vocalist Roy Khan to replace Mark Vanderbilt, but it was The Fourth Legacy that enthralled theit existing fans and roped in curious bystanders from far and wide. That momentum hasn’t stopped in spite of the occasional potholes in the road forward. Khan’s departure in 2011 could have destroyed the band – the fact he bolted a week before a major North American tour, forcing its cancellation, certainly didn’t help – but they regrouped and released Silverthorn a year later to rave reviews. With new singer Tommy Karevik on board, the album and tour that followed made it clear Kamelot had regained their stride, and the new Haven album is a clear cut example of a band unafraid of trying new things and potentially freaking out their fanbase while remaining loyal to the sound that made them.
“A lot of people that have been following us since The Fourth Legacy days have said this is the album they’ve been waiting for,” says guitarist Thomas Youngblood of Haven, easily the most diverse record in their catalogue. “Haven is more in line with what fans are used to with The Black Halo and even Karma, but it was really important for us to add new elements and bring the band a little bit more into today instead of giving them the symphonic thing from 10 years ago. That was a big part of it. We definitely didn’t want the album to be overly symphonic and I think we achieved all the goals we had going in.”
Truth be told Haven isn’t an easy listen at first even for the diehard fan, but once inside it’s very hard to leave. There are the signature attacks and flourishes one has come to expect of any Kamelot opus, but you get the feeling there was a meeting on the final day of mixing where the band members arm-wrestled their way bloody and broken to a final tracklist. Nothing about Haven is as one expects; some of the heaviest material (‘Liar Liar’ and ‘Revolution’) is shoved to the back half of the album, the signature ballad rewrites what we know about Kamelot’s penchant for pulling heartstrings, and much of the once-trademark symphonic attitude has been stripped back to make way for the band. Continue reading BraveWords Interview: KAMELOT – Far Beyond Eternity
When Kamelot released Silverthorn in 2012 it was a make-or-break affair as they navigated the debris left behind following the ambitious yet ultimately stagnant Poetry For The Poisoned album and the departure of vocalist Roy Khan. A record loaded to the teeth with every weapon in the Kamelot arsenal, Silverthorn was perhaps too epic for its own good at times, but it succeeded in winning over the vast majority of fans left heartbroken and skeptical by Khan’s departure. Haven finds Kamelot trimming away a lot of the Silver-fat in favour of a sound more in line with The Fourth Legacy, Karma or The Black Halo, beefing up the guitar / bass / keys / drums while reducing the symphonics to a Use In Case Of A Damn Good Idea capacity. Vocalist Tommy Karevik is given far more space to shine on Haven compared to his Silverthorn debut, making for a much stronger album on that score alone.
All that said, fact is nobody is going to be mindblown by Haven the first time through (if you say you were, you’re a bullshit artist). It’s a gradual build with lead-off tracks ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’ – which don’t have the blow-the-doors of speed of previous album openers ‘Center Of The Universe’ and ‘Forever’ – groove-pounding the listener into the new Kamelot comfort zone (with no done-to-death orchestral track to kick things off… thank you). Interesting as well that the band waits four tracks to unleash Haven’s first stormer, ‘Veil Of Elysium’ – which sounds like the less evil twin to Silverthorn’s ‘Sacrimony’ – one of only two (!!) to be had on the entire album. And this is the addictive nature of Haven; for all the threads you can weave back to previous album, Kamelot keep you guessing as to what you’re going to get, and how and when it’s going to be served up. Unexpected and bloody impressive at this stage of the game. Continue reading KAMELOT – Haven: “Unexpected And Bloody Impressive At This Stage Of The Game”
By Carl Begai
Every time Kamelot and Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz are mentioned in the same sentence, the buzz that follows is usually enough to break the internet. With that in mind, consider this a bit of shameless promotion featuring an excerpt from a new Kamelot interview with guitarist Thomas Youngblood, due to be published on BraveWords just prior to the release of their new Haven album in early May.
At this point in Kamelot’s career guest vocalists are an (admittedly) expected part of any production at their hands, whether it’s an album, festival show or full blown tour (headline or support). Their new album, Haven, satisfies those expectations with the return of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), new voice on the block Charlotte Wessels (Delain), and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, all of whom appear at select points during the latest Kam-epic’s run. They are a welcome element in the band’s musical tapestry that would be sorely missed by many if they weren’t involved.
“I never want to feel like we have to have female vocals on an album and who knows, maybe on the next record we won’t,” says Youngblood. “People forget that on The Fourth Legacy (1999) we had two songs with female vocals, so it wasn’t like we jumped on some bandwagon. We did that 15 years ago. The difference now is that we’re lucky enough to have some super-talented friends that also work perfectly within the Kamelot structure. Somebody like Alissa for example, who isn’t really known for melodic metal or power metal or whatever you want to call it, the way she works with us is so natural and organic it’s just amazing.” Continue reading KAMELOT – Enter Haven: “Be Our Guest…”
By Carl Begai
I first became aware of photographer Jeremy Saffer’s work through the promo campaign for Kamelot’s Silverthorn album in 2012. It was a single photo featuring vocalist Tommy Karevik flanked on either side by Kamelot’s live backing singers Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) and Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), which I found quite striking. An online search revealed Saffer to be someone who has established himself as a go-to photographer for people in the know, yet he remains below the radar to some degree. Saffer doesn’t have time to worry about whether people get or even know about his work, however, because he has several projects on the go at any given time. In fact, this interview was conducted as Saffer was gearing up for the release of his latest work(s) of art.
Taking on photography as a career is something that develops over time rather than waking up one day and saying “Eureka! I know what I’m gonna do with my life!” Saffer reveals that his love for music carved the path to becoming what amounts to a photographer to the gods…
“Like most metalheads I was a musician,” Saffer begins, “and on the side for fun I would take photos of bands; live shots only at the time. I had been shooting bands live for about three years when I started college at Berklee College Of Music… and I hated Berklee. It was an eye-opener for me that I didn’t want to play music for the rest of my life, which to me was shattering as it was my dream since I was little. So, in this struggle I was talking to a friend/mentor, as his advice is extremely important to me. I said ‘I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do. I hate Berklee…’ He asked me what I liked to do, and without hesitation I said ‘Shoot bands, shoot shows.’ He looked at me as if I was the last one to get it. That look he gave me changed my entire mindset from ‘Okay, I photograph bands for fun, now I can do it for a career…’ So I went to a quick photo school and continued on my career, which has slowly gone from mostly live photos to mostly portraits.” Continue reading JEREMY SAFFER – “Death To False Photography”
By Carl Begai
Swedish vocalist Elize Ryd rose to fame as the female singer for Amaranthe, fronting the band alongside Jake E. (clean vocals) and Henrik Englund (cookie monster growls). As the band has grown so have the number of requests for Elize to lend her talents to productions by other artists. She’s no stranger to being a session player – it’s how she ended up with the Amaranthe gig – having guested for Falconer, Dragonland, Renegade Five, Timo Tolkki’s Avalon, with her stint as a guest vocalist on tour with Kamelot through 2011 and 2012 and her appearance on their Silverthorn record (2012) being particularly noteworthy. Amaranthe remains Elize’s top priority and she’s currently focusing all her attention on supporting their new album, Massive Addictive, but it’s a fair bet there will be more guest spots on down the line.
“I’m openly willing to do it because I love to sing,” Elize says of taking on productions outside Amaranthe. “I get a lot of requests to do guest appearances because many other artists who need a singer seem to think my voice would fit their songs. As long as I think the music is good and I feel that I can connect to what they’re doing, it’s very hard for me to say no (laughs). Sometimes I do it as a job, sometimes I do it to help a friend. I’ve had to say no to quite a few projects because the new Amaranthe album is coming out and I don’t want to take any of the attention away from it.”
At press time Kamelot was in pre-production for their next studio album. There’s no word yet as to whether Elize will be asked to contribute as she did on Silverthorn, but there are plenty of fans expecting her to make a reappearance. Continue reading AMARANTHE Vocalist ELIZE RYD – Between The Lines
By Carl Begai
Several years ago a theory was developed suggesting that non-Canadian metal and rock bands wanting to break big only had to add a Canuck to the mix somewhere down the line. There’s absolutely no scientific proof to give my theory any merit, of course, but acts like Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Dream Theater all enjoyed huge success as a result of Canadian influence (producer Bruce Fairbairn, vocalist Sebastian Bach, producer Bob Rock, and singer James Labrie respectively). This supposed trend has continued with Alissa White-Gluz, former vocalist for The Agonist, replacing Angela Gossow in Arch Enemy after 14 years in the trenches. An unexpected development to say the least, but perhaps even more unexpected is the impact the band’s new album, War Eternal, is having on their fanbase. Sure, there’s the expected disgruntled faction that worship the ground Gossow walks on – and rightly so – and others that find War Eternal too melodic, too clean and too easy on the ears. For the most part, however, both Alissa and War Eternal continue to garner postive feedback and huge support from an increasingly louder majority.
BraveWords: Could you sense that Angela was going to call it quits, or did her announcement come out of the blue?
Michael: “We ended the Khaos Legions world tour in December 2012 with a South American leg, and the last show was in Mexico City. A few weeks after that we had a band meeting and decoded we were going to take 2013 almost completely off from band activity, definitely from shows. That opened the schedule up in a way we’ve never experienced in the last 12 years, because as you know it’s been pretty relentless doing the album-tour-album-tour cycle. It was pretty much a case of ending a tour on the Friday and going into pre-production on a new album on a Monday. That happened twice in 10 years, and it was very intense. People change, and Angela got to a point in her life where she wanted to make some changes. Not everybody is in this for life because it’s a very demanding lifestyle. It can be very tough on you if you’re not 100% into it.”
BraveWords: Angela is still part of the machine, but in the background as the band’s manager. It’s a post she’s actually held for several years…
Michael: “Angela took over the business management for Arch Enemy in 2008. She did a fantastic job with that and really turned things around for the band on many levels. She was getting a lot of satisfaction out of that, so I think that was getting stringer than the satisfaction she got out of performing. And she never liked travelling, so in the end I think it caught up with her. We could see the writing on the wall. We’re not completely insensitive assholes and we could see that she wasn’t 100% into it anymore. And when she finally told us last year that she was quitting, Angela urged us to carry on.” Continue reading BraveWords Interview: ARCH ENEMY – This Means War!
By Carl Begai
Italian vocalist Fabio Lione first made his mark on the international metal scene in 1997 fronting Rhapsody – now known as Rhapody Of Fire for legal reasons – and holds that post to this day. Over the years, however, he has gained a reputation for being a reliable go-to replacement when circumstances make it impossible for a band to operate with their own singer. The most recent example of this was on Gamma Ray’s European tour, which featured Rhapsody Of Fire as support. Vocalist Kai Hansen was battling a serious case of bronchitis that threatened to derail the tour completely, but rather than pack it in they tapped several friends to fill in for Hansen at certain points of the nightly set. Lione pulled double duty for a good portion of the tour, performing a handful of songs for Gamma Ray on top of a full Rhapsody Of Fire set, hammering home performances that showcased just how formidable a vocalist he really is. It’s one thing to cover Helloween’s ‘Future World’ – a Gamma Ray staple that has been done to death – and quite another to nail ‘Empire Of The Undead’, a brand new song that Hansen himself has probably sung live less than 30 times.
Rhapsody Of Fire has been Lione’s top priority since the beginning, but in 2011 he was asked to front Kamelot on tour in place of Roy Khan who had bowed out (and eventually quit) for personal reasons. The Kamelot fanbase was quite naturally resistant to the idea of Lione behind the microphone, but by the end of the tour many fans agreed he had something significant to offer. In the end it was Seventh Wonder vocalist Tommy Karevik that got the job, but Lione’s ties to Kamelot are still intact.
“I love the guys in Kamelot,” says Lione. “I love the band, I love the crew, we had a beautiful tour. I think we did something like 49 shows together in North America, South America and Europe. The response in every place we played was great, so I know that it wasn’t easy for Thomas (Youngblood/guitars) to make the decision to choose someone else. Of course he preferred to get somebody that doesn’t already have a big band because it’s easier to manage the schedule without having to worry about what else is going on. In the end, I appreciate that we’re still really good friends. Thomas sends me emails every so often, he’s interested in doing a side-project with me, and I’m sure he’s happy with his decision to bring Tommy into the band.” Continue reading RHAPSODY OF FIRE Vocalist Fabio Lione – “I Love The Guys In KAMELOT; We Had A Beautiful Tour”
By Carl Begai
Cluttered as the metal scene is with female-fronted symphonic metal bands, news that Delain has a new slab of metal to offer isn’t likely to burn up the hype lines. Not until word on The Human Contradiction truly gets out. The fact they’re Dutch doesn’t help matters given their Netherlands is home to much bigger names of the genre such as Epica, Within Temptation, and former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen who went off to join a little band called Nightwish. As vocalist Charlotte Wessels puts it, however, Delain is a very stubborn band, and although they’ve been on the bottom end of the ladder since their 2006 debut, Lucidity, it hasn’t discouraged them from pushing forward. The Human Contradiction marks their biggest step thus far, up and over the metal microscope and those ready to dismiss Delain without even hearing a note.
Still, the comparisons to bigger and badder female fronted bands must be a pain in the ass.
“It comes with its challenges because we’ve been compared to Within Temptation forever, which is very natural because their sound is in our DNA,” says Charlotte. “Our keyboardist Martijn (Westerholtis one of the main songwriters in Delain and used to be a member of Within Temptation. But, in general, those comparisons and connections have done more for us rather than being an obstacle because, let’s be honest, our first record was a studio record featuring lots of guest musicians. I think a lot of people picked up that record because there was a guest on it they liked, so it is difficult when you face certain competition. In our case, though, we have a lot to be grateful for, so I choose not to ponder over that too much.”
The Human Contradiction finds Delain in what is probably best position of their career. Signed to Napalm Records, they paid their dues in a big way leading up to and following the release of their previous album, We Are The Others (2012). Trying to follow the updates on said album was a confusing exercise, and it sounded like Delain was on their way to being crushed by music industry politics. Charlotte admits it was a painful rough patch for the band.
“When we started working on We Are The Others we were on Roadrunner, but in the middle of that Roadrunner got sold to Warner. We didn’t choose to be with them and they didn’t choose to have us on their roster, and because some people that we worked with at Roadrunner were still with the company we were basically working with two different teams. There were all kinds of ideas and opinions coming in from both sides and we’re a pretty stubborn band, so we didn’t let any of them steer us away from what we wanted to do. Continue reading BW&BK Interview: DELAIN – Surfing On Stardust