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
By Carl Begai
With 30 years of history under their collective belt, the current incarnation of Helloween could realistically get away without having to make new albums and still have a successful ongoing career. They have weathered numerous storms over the past three decades including having lost co-founding guitarist Kai Hansen to creative differences and Gamma Ray, releasing a couple royal stinkers (depending on who you talk to), drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg committing suicide, and parting ways with the man often / still viewed by many as the only singer worthy of Helloween, Michael Kiske, yet they’ve forged onward. Their latest album, My God Given Right, is yet another example of the German act’s legendary tenacity.
Helloween’s previous album, Straight Out Of Hell (2013), was an epic juggernaut as far as the band’s discography is concerned. Everything about it was big and brash right down to the artwork, even more obnoxious than their 1998 corker Better Than Raw, with the band and label going so far as to get their balls out and release a 7-minute first single (‘Nabataea’) that was far more listenable than the anemic “mainstream” edited version. In contrast, My God Given Right sees the ‘Weenies tightening things up and adhering to their roots more than ever. Vocalist Andi Deris discovered during the massive press junket for the album that most folks genuinely appreciate the new music
“They aren’t completely great actors, ” Deris laughs, referring to the ass-kissing “best album you’ve ever made” contingent that’s par for the course. “We’ve never been everybody’s darlings and that’s not about to change, but the majority of people seem to like the album a lot. I think the reason for that is we’re always listening to the fans when they tell us what they like and don’t like. That’s still a learning experience, even now. The important thing is that we continue to move forward even as we hold on to where Helloween came from.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It was recently announced that after almost five years Kiske / Somerville – the project featuring vocalists Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) and Amanda Somerville (Trillium, HDK, Avantasia) – have reunited for a new album entitled City Of Heroes. Due out in April, preparations are currently underway to present a bigger and better than the self-titled debut from 2010, which went over a storm amongst the project’s ready-made fanbase.
On February 4th the full band – Kiske, Somerville, Mat Sinner (bass / Primal Fear, Sinner), Magnus Karlsson (guitars / Primal Fear, Starbreaker) and Veronika Lukešová (drums / Rock Meets Classic) – descended upon Nuremberg, Germany and met up with director Martin Müller to shoot video clips for the songs ‘City Of Heroes’ and ‘Walk On Water’. A behind-the-scenes photo gallery from the 12+ hour shoot can be viewed below.
No vocalists, musicians, instruments, video directors, assistants or photo-journalists were harmed during filming. Catering was awesome.
By Carl Begai
When Unisonic surfaced in 2012 it was something of a milestone in that former Helloween bandmates Michael Kiske (vocals) and Kai Hansen (guitars) were officially working together again. They crossed paths several times following Kiske’s departure from Helloween in 1993 – Hansen having jumped ship four years earlier – beginning with Kiske’s guest appearance on Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free album in 1995, but it wasn’t until Avantasia’s European tour in 2010 where they shared the stage for a few songs each night that the prospect of collaborating on bigger and better things became serious. Kiske already had Unisonic on the go with former Gotthard guitarist Mandy Meyer, Pink Cream 69 bassist/producer Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou, and the decision was made to bring Hansen on board. Interest in the band spiked once the news went public, but the self-titled debut received a mixed bag of reactions. It wasn’t the Helloween Mark II people had expected beyond the ‘Unisonic’ single that kicked things off, yet the band was able to tour extensively and successfully on the strength of the album. Light Of Dawn is Unisonic’s second shot in the arm, and the band remains unapologetic for doing things their own way rather than according to other people’s designs.
“We came from our Place Vendome roots – me, Kosta and Michael – doing AOR stuff, and we knew we wanted to make melodic guitar-oriented music,” says Ward of Unisonic’s focus from the get-go. “I don’t want to insult anybody, and I sure don’t want to be rude, but we said from the beginning in a million different interviews that we’re not going to try and do anything remotely similar to Helloween. That was well stated so many times in advance, but we brought the record out and people were complaining that it wasn’t as heavy as they thought it would be. It was like, ‘Fucking hell, don’t you read? Don’t you care about what we said?’ I don’t want to be insulting, and with all due respect, we don’t give a shit about those complaints because we did what we wanted to do.”
“You have to look at the roots of the people in this band other than Michael, who has his metal roots way in the past. Kai came very late to the band, and the rest of us make hard rock music, not metal. It’s like Paul McCartney making a record that sounds like The Beatles; is he supposed to apologize for that? I don’t think so (laughs). No matter what we do we’re going to disappoint somebody, so we just stay true to ourselves. Slowly but surely we’re finding our way. On this album we tried some new stuff, we ventured farther into the dangerous metal realm (laughs). We left the dragons out but we tried to give the fans a little more of what they want to hear.” Continue Reading
So, me and my extended BW&BK family have issued our individual Best Of 2012 lists because that’s the sort of thing you do in this biz as the new year kicks off. I’ve decided to post my long-winded overview of the last 12 months here, with a link provided leading to my Top 10 Albums list along with other honourable (and dishonourable) mentions…
It was a rollercoaster of a year, as they all are in the music biz.
From being blindsided by Halestorm’s new album The Strange Case Of… and becoming a fan against my will, to dealing with a fuckwit promo rep at Roadrunner Records who decided to change my questions in an email interview because she felt they were “too harsh” for her artist (um, shouldn’t that be for the artist to decide?), to bucket list interviews with Brighton Rock’s Gerry McGhee and the lovely Lita Ford, to witnessing some amazing shows on both sides of the pond, 2012 has been quite the adventure.
See the list here for the Hot and Not albums of my year, then pick apart my sanity at your leisure.
Gotta say that I was surprised at not being disappointed by any of the shows I was able to attend this year. The third annual European run of Rock Meets Classic featuring Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Steve Lukather (Toto), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), three-fifths of Primal Fear’s roster and Trillium vocalist Amanda Somerville was positively brilliant, with PF singer Ralf Scheepers going above and beyond lending his voice to the Toto hit ‘Rosanna’ (!). Watching Devin Townsend successfully manipulate a Motörhead crowd into doing his bidding was a gut-buster, seeing former Helloween members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen on stage together with Unisonic belting out classics ‘I Want Out’ and ‘Future World’ was ’87 surreal, and the Leaves’ Eyes / Firewind tour that looked so weird on paper turned out to be one of the best gigs of the past 12 months.
Nightwish gets a scrapbook all its own due to a brilliant show in Nuremberg – featuring more pyro than the sun – and a day and night hanging with some of the finest people in the metal business. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
When former Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske announced the launch of his new band Unisonic in 2009, the buzz that followed was minimal at best. Having ex-Gotthard guitarist Mandy Meyer and the Pink Cream 69 rhythm section of Dennis Ward (bass) and Kosta Zafiriou (drums) on board did little to sweeten the pot, largely because Kiske had built a dubious track record for lack luster solo albums and making one-shot guest appearances on other projects since his 1993 departure from Helloween. Add to this his rather vocal disdain for the metal scene and many of his fans felt they’d been stabbed in the back. He redeemed himself somewhat with the Kiske / Somerville album in 2010 and his continued participation in Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet’s popular ongoing metal opera band, Avantasia – dating back to 2001 – but expectations surrounding Unisonic remained painfully low.
Enter former Helloween bandmate Kai Hansen, a long standing friend and fan of Kiske’s vocal talents. Hansen infamously left Helloween mid-tour in 1988 and went on to form Gamma Ray a year later, calling on Kiske to do guest vocals on the song ‘Time To Break Free’ for the Land Of The Free album in 1995. Since then the pair have crossed paths on various projects, with things coming to a head on Avantasia’s world tour in 2010, when Sammet called upon them to reprise their studio roles for the stage. Both Kiske and Hansen agreed, doing a string of shows together for the first time in 20 years. A few months after the tour Hansen announced he had joined Unisonic as a full time member. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Normally I shy away from doing live / event reviews simply because I suck at them. Kind of ironic given that’s how I got my start in this business. Fact is I find it almost impossible to express how good I think a show was in print without boring myself to tears. You can only use and re-word the terms “kick ass” and “awesome” so many times until you begin to sound like that idiot hack who shows up for two songs and a shot of Jack, then heads home to compose a glowing review before bed of what he didn’t see. Between bouts of World Of Warcraft and Spongebob.
All that said, I was invited by singer Amanda Somerville to attend a video shoot for the song ‘If I Had A Wish’, taken from the forthcoming Kiske / Somerville album featuring herself and ex-Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske. Also on board for the shoot were bassist Mat Sinner (Primal Fear / Sinner), guitarist Sander Gommans (ex-After Forever / HDK) and drummer Rami Ali. Amanda and I have known each other a long time (yes, I namedropped; sue me ;-)) and Mat has been a long time friend and supporter of BW&BK, so I was more than happy to come down and play a game of hurry-up-and-wait with them.
Besides, it was a good excuse to see if Sander was the metalhead he claims to be. I wasn’t disappointed; the ‘Painkiller’ footage was priceless (a story for another day).
In the meantime, a new video report from Amanda is available here. Below are a few highlights from the experience Continue Reading