By Carl Begai
Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned to form with his progressive metal opera project’s ninth album, The Source. In 1995 he introduced his “more is more” mindset with The Final Experiment, setting the tone for each future production stamped with the Ayreon name, garnering a loyal cult following and high expectations from those fans. It was the third album, Into The Electric Castle released in 1998, that laid a solid foundation for Lucassen’s multi-vocalist epics, and The Human Equation in 2004 that put him on the metaldom map as a creative force to be reckoned with, or respected at the very least. There have been a few missteps along the way depending on who you talk to – 01011001 from 2008 and The Theory Of Everything from 2013 are not the easiest albums to get into – but the fans are responding well to The Source. In fact, the constant comparisons to The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle suggest that Lucassen may have struck musical gold once again.
“I know what you mean,” Lucassen agrees. “I had that feeling a twice before because everything came together so easily. The cast came together, the music came together, the story was easy, which are things I had with The Human Equation and Into The Electric Castle. Sometimes that happens and I just try to steer things in the direction they need to go.”
The ease with which the material The Source came together could have and probably should have been a bit frightening for Lucassen. How many musicians have boasted about new music coming together effortlessly only to be carved by the press once it goes out to the public?
“I’m insecure as hell about that,” he admits. “I start with 50 ideas and I hate most of them, really (laughs), because I figure they’re not good enough. The ones that I do like, I’ll play them to Lori (Linstruth / girlfriend, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) and she’ll be like “Well, yeah, okay…” So, I’m completely insecure until the very last moment, which is what makes me a perfectionist. That’s what makes me work so much harder, especially when I hear other stuff like the new Opeth or the new Devin Townsend. That’s when I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, my stuff doesn’t even get close to that…’ (laughs). The reactions to The Source have been so good that the insecurity is gone, and usually it’s always there.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
On the one hand, big budget live DVDs seem like a pointless investment now that YouTube is king. Then again, with hundreds of hours of bootleg footage online showcasing or plaguing a band until the end of time once uploaded, there’s an artistic need for an artist to present their work in the best possible light. Nightwish started releasing live DVD material long before online video sharing became the entity it is today, issuing material in three year cycles (approximately) to capture each chapter on their journey to greatness. Folks paying attention to that particular aspect of the Nightwish catalogue, therefore, weren’t surprised when news came down that the band was releasing Vehicle Of Spirit to commemorate their Endless Forms Most Beautiful world tour. Just how necessary it is can be debated, particularly since the Showtime, Storytime DVD from 2013 – shot at the Wacken Open Air in Germany – is a very hard act to follow if you’re a fan of live retrospectives. It’s doubtful the diehard fans are complaining, however, with shows from 2015 shot in Tampere, Finland and London, England featured along with live clips from around the world.
“We started planning the Vehicle Of Spirit DVD as we planned the tour for Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” says vocalist Floor Jansen. “We knew that we didn’t just want to document one concert, but rather to show more faces of Nightwish on tour around the world. We have a varied setlist, we play different sizes of stages – in Germany, for example, it’s massive, and in the US things are much smaller – and a show in China looks different from a show in Finland. We wanted to document the world tour, and as the planning of the show evolved we chose the London show at Wembley because it was the biggest and very special. This was definitely something that was planned from the beginning.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Dutch singer Floor Jansen is best known these days as the voice of Nightwish, a post she’s held since 2012 following the controversial firing of Anette Olzon, but her music career began long before Tuomas Holopainen had the presence of mind to ask Jansen to help pilot his ship of dreams. Jansen made name for herself fronting After Forever from the band’s inception in 1997 until 2009. In that time she also worked with Ayreon, Star One, Devin Townsend Project and MaYan on an assortment of albums and launched her own band, ReVamp, which has since been put to rest due to her Nightwish commitments. Although Nightwish spent most of 2016 on the road in support of their latest album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Jansen found time to record vocals for two tracks on the new Evergrey album, The Storm Within, collaborate once again with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen… and make a baby with fiancé and Sabaton drummer Hannes Van Dahl.
Jansen is featured on two tracks for The Storm Within, ‘In Orbit’ and ‘Disconnect’, the former having been released as a single and video. I spoke with Evergrey frontman Tom Englund for the official bio released for The Storm Within earlier this year and he offered his thoughts on bringing Jansen in for the album.
“That was actually my wife (Carina Englund) thinking for me. Floor is a personal friend and major Evergrey fan, so it was over a glass of wine between her and my wife, who asked her if she wanted to do the song. ‘In Orbit’ is a powerhouse of a song and it would be easy to make it the first single, but it’s not the first impression we want to make. That said, it would be stupid not to release it as a single, and if we could get Floor to do the video, that would be a home run.” Continue Reading
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
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
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
By Carl Begai
You’d be hard pressed to argue against the importance and benefit of Finnish bashers Nightwish bringing Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever) on as their permanent singer in 2013. News that the band had also enlisted English uilleann pipes player and long-time collaborator Troy Donockley at the same time, however, proved to be something of a head-scratcher. Although he’d been a part of the Nightwish camp since 2007 and the Dark Passion Play album – touring with them extensively as of 2012 – the idea that a band known for symphonic metal would add such an odd element to a tried and true formula did not bode well for the future. It was one thing to have Donockley in the background to help keyboardist / mastermind Tuomas Holopainen realize his musical visions, quite another to allow the multi-instrumentalist to have serious input. Especially when Donockley’s resumé includes working with artists sich as Midge Ure, Status Quo, Mostly Autumn and Del Amitri. Any worries were unfounded, as the latest Nightwish album Endless Forms Most Beautiful and the subsequent tour present the band in their expected bombastic metal glory; Donockley has enhanced the band’s sound and show rather than diluting or altering it.
We spoke during the European leg of the Endless Forms Most Beautiful tour in December 2015 prior to one of many sold out shows, with Donockley offering some insight as to how life in the Nightwish camp is now compared to when former singer Anette Olzon – who was let go and replaced by Jansen mid-tour in 2012 – was in the spotlight.
“The tour is much better than we thought it would be, and we kind of suspected it would be that way,” Donockley admits. “We’ve worked with Floor since the famous cataclysmic American tour (laughs) so we all know each other really well now. We’re in a really unusual situation in this band; it’s freakish because we don’t fight, there’s no conflict, there’s no divison between any of us, we share everything and we have massive fun together. It didn’t used to be like that. When I first started to get involved with the band it was very compartmentalized to say the least. Everybody kind of did their separate things, but there’s a real sense of camaraderie now.” Continue Reading
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
By Carl Begai
For long-time Nightwish fans, namely those of us that were around five or six years before the 2004 commercial splattershot explosion of ‘Nemo’, the ‘Élan’ single from the band’s new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, was something of a letdown. Not everyone felt that way, but for many the song came off as painfully soft-handed after months upon months of new vocalist Floor Jansen being touted as the perfect in-your-face successor for both former Nightwish singers, Anette Olzon and Tarja Turunen. Countless hours of bootleg YouTube footage and the Showtime, Storytime DVD fuelled this widespread opinion, pushing expectations that Jansen’s studio debut with Nightwish would be something bold and brash. First impressions don’t paint the entire picture in this case, however, and once inside Endless Forms Most Beautiful fans will discover – for better or worse – things most certainly aren’t what they seemed when ‘Élan’ crooned its way out of the latest Nightwish branded box of tricks.
“I haven’t really listened to the album in a couple of months now,” keyboardist/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen admits, “but one of the most common comments I get from people is that the new album has this old school Nightwish vibe, like going back 10 years in time. I’ve heard it called more band oriented, more organic, more like Once and even Oceanborn, and I have to agree.”
Comparisons to Nightwish a decade past are warranted with new material like ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’, ‘My Walden’, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’, ‘Yours Is An Empty Hope’ or, yes, ‘Élan’, but primary songwriter and musical director Holopainen deftly avoids a complete rehash of the band’s well worn trademarks. This is perhaps best exemplified by their decision to bring the new record to a close with an obnoxious epic track, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Originally 35 – 40 minutes long, the band decided to cut it down to a more respectable 24 minutes (!) that, much like Dream Theater’s now legendary song ‘A Change Of Seasons’, doesn’t feel nearly as long as it looks on paper. It’s a rare feat that very few bands can pull off. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Get past the sexist slant of the title and take a serious listen to Epica’s new album, The Quantum Enigma; particularly if you’re one of those people (like yours truly) that’s fed up with the female-fronted symphonic metal trend. Coming down from the buzz of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Dutch sextet abandoned the business-as-usual approach that made them famous – and an inspiration to far too many bands around the world – and coughed up an album that, if it doesn’t win you over outright, will at least earn Epica some respect. Yes, their orchestral backbone is still very much intact, but it now belongs to a guitar-heavy drum pounding monster that tears the band free of those lingering comparisons to Nightwish and Lacuna Coil.
“There was one guy I did an interview with today and he said, ‘Before, Epica was a band just for my girlfriend. This new album, I love it too…’ laughs guitarist/founder Mark Jansen. “We wanted to refresh the sound of the band and judging by all the positive reactions, we’ve succeeded.”
“After Retrospect (the concert) we decided that since we had celebrated our first 10 years as a band, we should do something to refresh the sound for the next 10 years,” he explains. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized we had to make some drastic changes. The first one was looking for another producer. Sascha Paeth (Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody Of Fire) has always done a great job in the 10 years we worked with him, but we needed someone to take us out of our comfort zone. We knew exactly what we were going to get from Sascha and he knew what he’d get from us, so we wanted someone who would make us see a different side of ourselves. We chose Joost van der Broek (ex-After Forever) because he’s still quite new to the production world but he’s done a lot. He’s gained a lot of experience but he still has this youthful energy around him, which makes you happy to work with him. That was the kind of energy we were looking for.”
The Quantum Enigma isn’t nearly as musically dense as some of Epica’s previous albums, which sometimes seemed to choke on the layered choir/symphonic bombast shoe-horned into the songs. There’s a whole lot of space in the music this time out, making Epica seem almost naked but most definitely stronger. Continue Reading